I was just wondering if there is anyone in this forum that has actually tried any of the various *BSDs that may be able to answer some questions I have? (and OSX doesn't count)
From what i'd read FreeBSD is maintained as a complete package in the same tree, so the project develops their kernel, shell and other userland stuff and sticks it all together. Does that mean that they don't use GNU tools? Or do they have their own fork of the GNU tools? I know FreeBSD and the other *BSDs ARE Unix so it made me wonder whether they just inherited old Unix tools or whether they chose to use the GNU replacements.
Also, is using BSD really that different from using Linux from a user standpoint? Or can you expect them to be about as different as just trying a different distribution of Linux (i.e. some package management differences with otherwise significant overlap)
I noticed that BSD was getting more attention recently on /. and digg, so that prompted me to read a bit about them, but now that I've done some reading I just wanted to hear some opinions and experiences. Thanks.
P.S. This is off topic but do you guys think Hurd will ever be done? Or do you think it will remain vaporware forever?
..or do like me: dust off an old SGI o2 and netboot it into netBSD and install (since I was initially unaware of the Debian port). Honestly, in my opinion, if you are somewhat familiar with Linux terminal work, you will feel fairly comfortable in a *BSD. It's kinda like a rental place when on vacation: not everything's where you expect it to be, but placement is logical enough and there's enough in terms of instructions that you can get stuff done.
One obvious difference between BSD and Linux is that BSD is a genuine Unix, whereas Linux isn't. As such BSD has a very long heritage and is an extremely stable OS. It's very good as a server, say for running a web server, mail server, something of the like.
I use FreeBSD; you'll be happiest with this if you are familiar with Gentoo Linux. The ports system of FreeBSD is very similar to portage on Gentoo (indeed I guess from the name that Gentoo copied FreeBSD) in that you can, if you wish, set all updates to be recompiled. This leads to a system that is very closely tailored to your hardware. A feature that you might like to investigate is "jails"; in essence this allows you to partion off various parts of the server - for example you could ringfence a web server with much tighter security than applied to the system as a whole.
Just about any Linux program should be able to run on FreeBSD - it has a special Linux compatibility layer. (But almost everything that you will find on Linux has also been ported to FreeBSD.) You can use any of the standard desktops - Gnome, KDE, whatever takes your fancy.
The online documentation is excellent. Have a look at The FreeBSD Handbook and there are also a number of good books on the subject.
All in all, if you enjoy playing with new things give it a whirl.
I'm writing this on my FreeBSD system; I also run OpenSolaris (again worth a try), Gentoo, Fedora, Windows 2000, XP64, and the trial version of Windows Server 2008. I like Operating Systems!
ijack, saying that *BSD is more stable than a Linux install is like saying sportscar A is faster than sportscar B: while technically true, both are really fast. I can't say I notice a difference in stability between my Gentoo installs, my Debian installs, my NetBSD installs, or my OpenBSD installs. They all are stable (except when hardware fails). My opinion of course, and take it as such. Nonetheless, excellent link for information.
Maybe I should explain slightly more deeply than a throwaway comment why I feel that BSDs are more stable than Linux. (I didn't actually say that, but in truth that is what I believe.) Firstly let me say that few of us are ever likely to find the limits of stability of either BSD or Linux. There are, however, from time to time issues with some Linux kernel upgrades.
As I said before, BSD is the latest incarnation of an extremely long line of genuine Unixes. As such it has a certain je ne sait quoi; perhaps it's what's called breeding. The kernel is not developed at the frantic rate that the Linux kernel tends to be. This means that it may not be quite so cutting edge, but what it does it does extremely well. (Actually, having said that I found a few years back that FreeBSD supported my then new AMD64 SATA-based PC far sooner than any Linux did.)
For a rock-solid server system I would pick FreeBSD over any of the Linux distributions that I have tried every time. But for a cutting edge, slightly skittish at times, system I'd choose Gentoo (and Fedora if I wanted the slightly blunter cutting edge but didn't want to be bothered with too much tinkering). To use the sportscar analogy I'd rate FreeBSD as a Lotus and Gentoo as a TVR - although the latter may be a little unfair! Fedora would be a Mazda RX8.
Whatever, I love them all (and Solaris and OSX) and count myself to be extremely fortunate that all of these fine operating systems (and XP64) are available for free (not the XP64). When I started to play with PCs I had to pay £150 for a C compiler - now I'm absolutely spoilt for choice with all sorts of software.
Even if you're not selling it, I'd buy that As with many things, it is a tradeoff: high stability (read: API/ABI doesn't change, and to some degree perhaps on corner cases availability/uptime due to new drivers/architectural features) versus wider support (read: hardware and features). I do wish Linux had better jailing (as linux_0 commented) that was available out-of-thebox and not requiring hacks and patches, as well as a more unified package management system (fat chance on that), as well as advanced kernel debugging utilities such as dtrace and the ilk on Solaris platforms (esp. as I am a system-level dev), but for day-to-day use, I haven't found something that fits my needs better than Linux. Would I pick it for a server? Maybe, depends on a few things. What I enjoy is choice; there I agree with you most wholeheartedly ijack
dtrace is great, isn't it. Also ZFS is pretty cool. I'm sure you're aware that the first is in the process of being ported to FreeBSD and the latter is already available. I wouldn't actually use ZFS on a production FreeBSD server yet - you need plenty of memory and even then it's not 100 % stable.
I don't know about dtrace but I know that there are some problems with ZFS on Linux because of licencing issues. That's another of the things that I like about BSD; the licencing is far more "laid back" than Linux. I guess that's part of the California heritage at work!